Mosaics are one of the most important forms of artistic expression from the ancient world. The Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, ICCROM, and ICCM created MOSAIKON, a strategic regional program for the conservation of mosaics in the Mediterranean.

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The MOSAIKON Initiative project description

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[Instrumental music plays throughout]

NARRATOR: The Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, has connected cultures for thousands of years. Its surrounding lands bare the traces of many civilizations. Among those remnants are mosaics that once embellished the private and public buildings of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. These are not only artworks of great beauty, but also invaluable records of life in the ancient Mediterranean world.

During the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, mosaics discovered during an excavation were commonly removed and taken to museums for safekeeping. Today it is considered best practice to conserve mosaics in situ, maintaining them in their original location. Both approaches pose conservation challenges.

Many mosaics were handled improperly during their removal from sites, and often incorrectly backed and poorly stored. In situ mosaics suffer deterioration from exposure to the elements and are at risk from looting and uncontrolled tourism. National and international organizations have made many efforts to preserve these extraordinary artifacts, but in the absence of a coordinated strategic approach, many challenges still exist. Needs exceed resources, and important mosaics continue to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Some are lost forever.

JEANNE MARIE TEUTONICO: In order to address this problem four partners came together in 2008 to create MOSAIKON, a strategic regional initiative, which is dedicated to creating better conditions for the conservation, presentation, and maintenance of mosaics in the Mediterranean region with an emphasis on the countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, essentially, the Middle East and North Africa.

AICHA BEN ABED: From the beginning, MOSAIKON was meant to be different. We wanted to do something to try to promote the different program and experience that we can follow up and that can be really roots for a new approach and a new vision and new practices of the mosaic field in our countries.

TEUTONICO: We are convinced that if we can train a critical mass of individuals, who can then train the next generation, replicable models of best practice that can be utilized and developed across the region, and a strong and dynamic professional network that can sustain itself and exchange information, we will ensure a better future for the mosaic heritage of the Mediterranean.

NARRATOR: A major focus of MOSAIKON is capacity building and training for those responsible for the care and conservation of mosaics, both those in situ and those in museums.
The Getty Conservation Institute has taken the lead in capacity building for in situ mosaics.

A successful training program for mosaics conservation technicians initiated by the Institute in the 1990s with partners in Tunisia has now, through MOSAIKON, expanded to include participants from Morocco, Libya, and Algeria. These technicians receive training in basic day-to-day conservation of mosaics on site.

The Getty Conservation Institute has also undertaken a series of education programs for archaeologists and site managers, who are responsible for the management of archaeological sites. These courses cover everything from documentation and conservation to interpretation and visitor management. A 2014 course in Pathos, Cyprus, was the second of three regional courses.

TEUTONICO: The idea with all of this capacity building is to try to build a community of practice, basically a critical mass of individuals, who are trained in the conservation of mosaics in situ so that they, in fact, can sustain these efforts into the future and ensure that mosaics are preserved beyond the scope of the MOSAIKON initiative.

NARRATOR: For those caring for lifted mosaics in museum collections, a similar series of courses has been supported by grants from the Getty Foundation. Training workshops are provided by the Centro di Conservazione Archeologica, or CCA, a conservation training center near Rome with leading expertise in mosaic conservation.

JOAN WEINSTEIN: It began with a course for Syrian restorers, which was to take place in Damascus. But given the instability in the country, the project was moved to CCA’s training center outside of Rome. And what was originally seen as an obstacle actually wound up being a real benefit. The restorers were really able to bond as a group, to form a strong cohort.
The program was so successful that additional cohorts came to CCA’s center for training from Tunisia, Jordan, and Libya.

NARRATOR: For the training programs to be successful in the long term, the conservation approaches taught must be sustainable and responsive to regional needs. And the materials and methods to be used for conservation should be locally available and affordable.

At Bulla Regia, a Roman and Byzantine era site in northwest Tunisia, famed for its underground villas, the Getty Conservation Institute, in collaboration with World Monuments Fund and the Institut National du Patrimoine of Tunisia, is leading a model field project. The conservation plan for the site will serve as a replicable model of best practice for similar sites in the region.

THOMAS ROBY: A component of the Bulla Regia model project is conservation planning for mosaics throughout the site, and in this case, there are over 350 mosaics. And the planned activities will include reburial of a selected number of mosaics. And this will enable the local authorities and the site staff to maintain and present to the public a selected number, reducing their need for increased budgets and trained personnel, creating a planning framework in which the local personnel can carry out and maintain the mosaics within their resources.

NARRATOR: For lifted mosaics in museums and storage, research is underway at the Getty Conservation Institute’s scientific laboratories to develop alternative backing materials and methods that are affordable and locally available in the region.

MOSAIKON also recognizes the need for a strong professional network and the importance of facilitating information access and exchange. To support this, a series of grants was provided to ICCM, the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics, to strengthen its website and to provide access to the latest literature and research tools in English, French, and Arabic.

DEMETRIOS MICHAELIDES: The ICCM was founded in the late ’70s with that purpose of building knowledge and an approach to the conservation of mosaics. The ICCM is the principal source of literature on mosaic conservation, mainly in the form of the proceedings of the conferences we hold, but it is also the principal professional network in the world of mosaics.

NARRATOR: To further strengthen information access, ICCROM, another MOSAIKON partner, is managing the translation of key texts on mosaics conservation into Arabic. These will be available through the ICCM website.

STEFAN DE CARO: Arabic is the first language of these countries. It’s important that national institutions and the professionals have the opportunity to read the technical studies in their native language. It’s important both to develop a technical competence, and it’s important for raising a more general awareness about the importance of mosaics.

NARRATOR: The MOSAIKON approach, comprehensive and strategic, seeks not simply to improve conditions today. Its goal is to build for the future.

[Instrumental music plays throughout]

NARRATOR: The Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, has connected cultures for thousands of years. Its surrounding lands bare the traces of many civilizations. Among those remnants are mosaics that once embellished the pri...